Winter Blues

ImageImage

‘I see you have Bleu de Termignon,’ he said looking up and down the counter, ‘That’s very rare!  There’s only one producer.’

‘We’ve been selling cheese from two producers,’ I corrected, ‘We still have some of both on the display.  Most of the cheese is made by Catherine Richard and she tends to make a firmer, drier cheese but this piece here is all we have left of Bernard Richard’s cheeses and they tend to be softer and more broken down.’

He, was a french exporter who wanted also to import Cheddar and Stilton and to that end had just been in a meeting with Jay Butcher of Neal’s Yard Dairy.  Unfortunately for him, as Mons Cheesemongers, buys its french cheese exclusively from Mons in France, he wasn’t going to get a sale here.  However he took the news very well, was most impressed by the name of Herve Mons (‘He is very well known in France’ I was told) and proceeded to peruse the cheeses we had out to sell and try a few.

Bleu de Termignon is not an easy sell.  It looks scary.  It has entirely natural blueing – no mould powder is put into the milk and the cheeses aren’t even pierced.  It blues inwards from cracks in the rind and it looks in some way prehistoric.  It tastes extremely subtle though.  At its best, the blueing has fennel, liquorice notes and because the blueing only follows tiny cracks in the curd, it is very gentle and herbacious rather than having bigger pockets of blue which you get in most continental blue cheeses.  It’s made up in the Savoie in a ridiculously beautiful mountain valley and I can’t help feeling that it is a glimpse into a bygone age of cheesemaking.  Catherine Richard uses wooden moulds to drain her curd which must help those natural cultures of Penicillium roqueforti going in the environment and drains her curd overnight in great big bags before it is moulded.  In fact, there are many aspects of the recipe that are very close to Stilton.  It’s just interesting to note that Stilton has developed into a creamy textured cheese over the years (but in that not so far removed from Bernard Richard’s Termignans) where Bleu de Termignan even in its softer cheeses has more structure.  Again, this is purely supposition as I don’t know the cheeses, but Piedmont’s Castelmagno and Blu del Moncenisio (in its farmhouse versions), I feel must surely follow similar techniques as well or perhaps if they don’t any more, they must have developed the same way.  Blu del Moncenisio in particular is made on the Italian side of the mountain of Mont Cenis.  The Richards are just over the border on the French side.

ImageImage

Termignan isn’t the only blue cheese on the Mons Cheesemongers counter however, we are also selling the much more crowd pleasing Persille de Beaujolais which is effectively a Fourme d’Ambert recipe but they use hemispherical Gorgonzola vats and buy their mould cultures from Italian Gorgonzola making friends.  This may or may not be Penicillium expansum / glaucum as discussed in a previous post but it certainly has a gentler and more mushroomy flavour than most savoury, herby roqueforti blueing.  Another example of how the AOC system isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to quality because this cheese is gentle and delicious and yet can not command the prestige of Fourme.

Image

(Persille de Beaujolais being made in semi hemispherical Gorgonzola vats)

And as if there were a theme to these last two cheeses we come on to Persille de Malzieu.  This is Herve Mons’s Stichelton in effect.  It is Roquefort but more traditional than Roquefort.   Most Roquefort production is done on an industrial scale these days.  There are smaller producers and there are some extremely quality driven producers, but there are no longer farmhouse Roquefort producers.  Herve has persuaded a farmer just outside the AOC area for Roquefort cheese production but who had been selling their Lacaune sheeps milk for Roquefort production to make cheese with it.  They basically make a farmhouse Roquefort and rather than following the strict letter of the law for recipe as laid down by the AOC, they mature it at warmer temperatures and without it going into the famous caves.  They also seem to pierce it less.  In essence they are going back to some of the techniques that would have been employed in farmhouse Roquefort production without the access to big refrigerated cold rooms or the desire to deliver that big, salty strong blue hit that Roquefort has become known for.  In my opinion, it is delicious.  It has the caramel notes of sheeps milk with the herby notes of blueing.  That and the Bleu de Termignan are my favourite blue cheeses to sell.  Oh and it’s about two thirds the price of Roquefort too.  Without the AOC, it can’t command the same price.  Better cheese, less money.  I’m in!

Advertisements

Glaucum? Expansum? Penicillium? Gliocladium? Let’s call the whole thing off!

I last wrote about the blue cheese course I attended at the School of Artisan Food.  It was hugely informative and I learned a lot.  One of the things that impressed me was that not all types of Penicillium roqueforti in blue cheeses are the same and not all blue cheeses even contain Penicillium roqueforti.  Some use a mould I’d never heard of – Penicillium glaucum.

If google images is to be believed this is P roqueforti under a microscope
And this is Penicillium glaucum / expansum (read on for nomenclature explanation)
As I always do, I posted the link on Facebook and then sat back a little surprised as the Facebook comment thread lengthened.  Penicillium glaucum is best known as the Gorgonzola mould but also, according to Ivan Larcher, very suitable for use in goats cheese and naturally occurring on rinds of Loire cheeses like Valancay.  Was this the same as was sourced from Coquardand used at Sleight Farm?  No, that’s Penicillium album, but it looks similar.  Is Penicillium glaucum also in Stilton (it’s sometimes referred to in textbooks as Roqueforti (Glaucum)).  Are Penicillium album and glaucum the same?
This was above my knowledge level, but when something’s a bit out of my league, I like to catch up and understand.  Luckily for me, Paul Thomas of ThimbleCheesemakers and a biochemist to boot, is very generous with his explanations and very good at explaining things so that the idiot (that would be me) can follow.
I will basically copy and paste what he emailed me because he says it better than I can.
 ‘As a quick background to microbiological classification, historically scientists would have peered down the microscope to attempt to assemble a vast number of species into some kind of order.
This creates some problems.  Some microbes have stages in their life cycle during which they may behave in different ways (which may lead to the identification of two species that are actually one).  There may be an element of variation within a species (that may or may not deserve subsequent separation into two species).  And, given the vast diversity of species it is possible to incorrectly identify a species of assign it to the wrong group.  If incorrectly assigned would it then perhaps lead to incorrect assumptions about the characteristics specific to the group and increase the likelihood of further errors in classification of other species?
The introduction of molecular biology techniques such as DNA sequencing makes it easier to classify species now according to genomic similarity.
So, Penicillium is a Genus (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species) and roqueforti, camemberti, album or glaucum are all species names.
P. glaucum is more commonly called P. expansum outside of cheese circles and is sometimes used to describe the light green mould found in Gorgonzola. I believe that David Jowett* was referencing Walker-Tisdale & Woodnut when he said that stilton had been described as being veined with “P. roqueforti (P.glaucum)”.  I’ve never seen it available as a culture – or at least not described as such.  I suppose it is possible that some of the milder P. roqueforti cultures may turn out to be glaucum – or it may turn out that what is often attributed to P. glaucum in Gorgonzola production is actually a low-pigment, low-methyl ketone (the group of compounds which cause the distinctive ‘blue cheese’ taste) form of P. roqueforti.  The cultures almost certainly predate any interest in sequencing them.
P. expansum/ glaucum is associated principally with decay in apples. Citrus Green Mould (P. digitatum) is very closely related to P.expansum.
P. album is now called Gliocladium album (it has been reclassified into another genus). This is the one we would commonly associate with the greyish appearance of the rind of a Loire goats cheese. Coquard sell a product described as P.album that produces a rind with an appearance compatible with that of a Loire goats cheese but, of course, it may be possible that natural mould growth in either the surface ripened goats cheese or a farmhouse gorgonzola may actually consist of several Penicillium (and Gliocladium) species.
While use of pasteurisation dramatically reduces the bacterial diversity of the finished cheese, it has less of an impact upon moulds.  Moulds present in very low numbers in the raw milk and are simply a representation of the moulds present environmentally and therefore continuously inoculated into the milk/curd/cheese. With Lyburn’s Stoney Cross, I saw considerable rind diversity (including some Sporendonema) despite the pasteurisation of the milk.
On a related subject, as I know you are keen to express the natural microflora of the milk, it may prove to be impossible to influence one Penicillium over another as the species present similar requirements with regard to temperature, pH and moisture.  Darker, more methyl ketone-producing strains seem to tend to dominate in natural blueing – either because they are more dominant and outcompete the milder strains or because they are simply more noticeable.  Termignon is a case worth studying in this instance and, I imagine, similar to the pre-industrial two-curd Gorgonzola.’
Back to my take on the situation.
At the end of the day, to my mind, there are a couple of key areas that confuse the cheesey mouldy world that Paul addressed.  Re-classification and new technologies that post date the accumulated knowledge of even pretty technical cheesemakers confuse us with new names that may or may not correlate with what has been written in the past and our sources for information may or may not be up to date with the latest nomenclature.  However also there is the environmental factor.  What we believe to be in the cheese be it Gorgonzola, Persille de Beaujolais, Fourme d’Ambert may be a glorious mixture of what you put into the milk and what the environment favours.  What you buy from Coquard in terms of a rind culture to allow it to resemble a Loire cheese, may actually not be present when your cheese is finally mature as your own environment’s influences take effect.
Back to that eternal balancing act that the cheesemaker somehow has to manage.  Cheese is an expression of your milk, your environment and your skills.  And thank God for that!
*David Jowett had started the Facebook comment thread and contributed a lot of the conversation that followed.  Thank you for keeping me on my toes.
 
PS.  A side issue.  
 
Penicillium expansum (you know, the one I used to call glaucum) when found in apples can cause an unpleasant mycotoxin: Patulin which causes gene mutation and therefore is considered to be a potential carcinogen (although that is not yet proven).  Before you panic and decide never to eat blue cheese again, read on.
 
About 10 years ago, I needed to write something for Neal’s Yard Dairy to help their shop staff explain  to worried customers that mould wasn’t poisonous (it isn’t).  At the time the leading authority on the subject was the late Tony Williams of Williams & Neaves Microbiologists.  
 
Tony explained to me that the moulds that you find in cheese, while they might produce toxins in other media, tend not to produce it in cheese.  Although there isn’t much research done, he had heard a theory that suggested the lactic acid bacteria in cheese might even consume the toxin themselves as the cheeses matured. While this is a pleasing idea, it wasn’t one he could prove, nor did he.  However he did state that to date it had been found that for reasons of pH and Water activity (Aw) that are found in cheese, it did not provide the right conditions for its moulds to produce mycotoxins.  
 
In other words, the blue mould in your Gorgonzola and Stilton and any other cheese where P expansum grows, are fine.  But give the mouldy apples a miss.

All you ever wanted to know about Blue Cheese but were afraid to ask?

Or perhaps more than you realised there was to know about Blue Cheese and had no idea of how much to ask.

Back in April this year, I got a call from Lee Anna Rennie at the School of Artisan Food.
‘Hello!’ came the cheery greeting over the phone, ‘I think I have something that might interest you…’
She proceded to explain that the School and Ivan Larcherwere extending his Professional Lactic and Blue Cheese courses and that he had suggested that she give me a call since we were planning to make a blue cheese.  The course was going to be epic, she enthused, basic cheesemaking knowhow, lots of practical and a month’s maturation time so we could finish off by troubleshooting and looking at how to mature blue cheeses.
This happened to fall into my lap at a very opportune moment.  Before Christmas I had been in touch with Jasper Hill Farms in Vermont in the hopes of going on one of their internship programmesConstant Bliss is my very favourite Chaource style cheese (better than the original – sorry the French nation) and I also wanted to practice making blues as well in the form of their Bayley Hazen Blue.  I emailed Mateo who I had known from the NYD days and who I’d visited many years ago with Randolph Hodgson way back before their ambitious cellars had been built or indeed their current micro lab.  Mateo put me in touch with Emily in their HR department and we exchanged emails and talked about what sort of internship would suit.  It looked good for the prospect of a couple of months making cheese, maturing cheese and a little bit on quality systems and the farm for good measure.  Unfortunately then their audit from the government intervened.  According to Andy Kehler who I had a brief chance to chat to in Italy during Cheese, their whole system had to be turned upside down at huge expense and significant amounts of work had to be done and backdated which must have been hugely frustrating for them as it seemed like it was an amazing system in the first place.  An email from Emily let me know that they had managed to sort out a system for interns who wanted to apply from within the US but were stuck for people coming in from another country and she couldn’t really guarantee when they might be able to come up with something.  This had been a concern for me because although I had already made lactic cheese and felt reasonably confident going into lactic cheesemaking, I hadn’t made a blue cheese before and wanted to be better prepared.  Jasper Hill had been going to be my opportunity to get some practice in and since it fell through, I’d been racking my brains trying to think of another alternative.  Here it was.
The course fell into three parts: introduction in April, practical in May, troubleshooting in early June.
We all showed up in April, met in the kitchen at the School of Artisan food, poured ourselves a coffee and introduced ourselves.  My fellow students included: Rich Hodgsonfrom the Isle of Wight Cheese Company, Roger Longman from White Lake Cheeses, Afke Baukje Haanstra who was over on an almost last minute impulse from Holland, Fergus Ledingham from Thornby Moor Dairy and finally Gareth Derrick, retiring from the armed forces and about to begin a life of cheese (he has since started up Erme River Dairy).
Our first, three day, section covered the basics, but when I say basics, that gives the idea that it’s quite simple.  There was so much more information than that.  I’d heard Ivan teach about milk before when I did a cheesemaking workshop at Will and Caroline Atkinson’s farm and so all the topics weren’t entirely new to me, but I still left at the end of the theory day with a slight headache.  We covered the production of milk including how the udder is structured, how a milkline works and what happens in the udder during lactation;  a basic milk chemistry including a really useful conclusions that you can draw by taking pH and titratable acidity readings on your milk over time that I’ve described on a previous post , milk’s chemical composition breaking down its fats and protein components including handy tips for milk storage so as to preserve the fats and the structure of the casein micelle, lactose, milk’s mineral content (including calcium) and enzymes.
We spent quite some time on different starter cultures both those that develop lactic acidity and the yeasts and ripening cultures that are also added to the milk, or naturally present in raw milk.  Then covered various different ways of coagulating milk from the lactic set, animal rennet, vegetable rennets, thistle extract.
However, to say this makes it sound like it’s a very dry and theoretical course.  It isn’t.
‘I can only teach cheese,’ Ivan said when we entered the School of Artisan Food teaching dairy, ‘By making cheese.  So we’re going to make cheese.’
As a demonstration we made a fairly industrial recipe Camberzola / Blue Brie style to show the industrial modern soft cheese techniques and a hard cheese technique blue cheese like Bleu de Gex.  I have to be honest, the Blue Brie technique didn’t engage me that much because even though I would like to make a Gorgonzola, my plan has always been to make something a little more flavourful.  The trick with a cheese like that however is how to maintain the white rind with the blue interior.  It’s a skill, although to be honest not one that I’m interested in perfecting because I want a nice washed rind style outer on my cheese.  The Bleu de Gex was interesting however and both recipes taught us a few fundamentals to prepare us for next time.  Firstly, adding yeasts in our starter cultures to create gas holes in the paste so the cheese has an open texture through which the blue can travel.  Secondly the level of acidity that you want to reach for a blue cheese.  This obviously alters from recipe to recipe, however Penicillium roqueforti can tolerate acidity.  It’s one of the few moulds that can grow in very acid conditions.  If you think about it, the only mould you get growing on a lemon is blue mould.  So to advantage this mould rather than something else, you cultivate a certain amount of acidity.
Cheeses made and salted, lessons learned, we departed and returned again a month later for the practical.
This time, although we did more theory of course,  we made 4 different contrasting types of cheese: a Fourme d’Ambert (with Guernsey milk, thanks to Roger), a Gorgonzola Cremoso style (with added cream which allowed us to learn to use the Pearson square technique which can be used for calculating how much cream to add or how much skimmed milk to add if you want to standardise to a certain fat percentage), a goats milk Stilton style (or basically a slow acid development milled blue cheese based around lactic technology which by the way is what Stilton is – but also so is Bleu de Termignon, Blu del Moncenisio (in its really traditional form) and to some extent also Castelmagno) that last one was also thanks to Roger for supplying the goats milk.
Cheeses made, we had to decide on the recipe we would use for our next cheese.  To this end we learned how to re-create a recipe from the end point or ‘reverse engineering’ as it was not entirely romantically called.  Basically you start with the sort of cheese you want – soft or hard and you move back.  If it’s a hard cheese, you need a quite soft set that therefore has a long flocculation time and a relatively short hardening time.  If it’s a soft cheese, you need quite a firm set that has a short flocculation time with a long hardening time.  This is a bit counter intuitive I realise but the set locks the moisture in and a hard cheese wants to lose its moisture while retaining its milk solids in the form of protein and fats.  For blue cheeses, you need to consider how your blueing will present in the final cheese.  If you want marbling then the cheese needs to be milled.  If you want pockets of blue then you add yeasts to the milk with the lactic starters and create an open texture but don’t mill it.
We made a soft blue cheese (well we only had a month to assess it in and for it to have any semblance of how it might develop we couldn’t really choose a hard cheese – in a way more’s the pity) and called it Blue Wednesday.  Ivan has worked with Ruaridh Stone on his recipe for Blue Monday (when he worked with Alex James) and Blue Murder (when they parted ways – hmmm amicable break up do you think??).
Our final cheese finished, we set off again for our final break and then returned a month later for a final couple of days to taste, assess and finish off.  Along our way, despite making lots of cheese, we had also covered the business of what moulds to choose.  Did you know there are hundreds of varieties of Penicillium roqueforti a cheesemaker can choose?  The best varieties are sold in France which is unfortunate for the English cheesemaker because, for starters if you don’t speak French you’re in a bit of trouble, but also you have to get it delivered over from France which is a bit less reliable as far as courier companies go.  I’ve worked on the other side of couriering, trying to send things from England to France, and I know it’s fraught with difficulties and delays and lost parcels.  However a lot of the problems I’ve encountered were sending things to addresses in Europe which may or may not have been correct (you never realise how little the average person knows about their own postal address until you have to run it through a courier’s consignment system – myself included).  If you double check your English address (and you can do this on Royal Mail’s website) then there’s no reason that your parcel should get lost.  So just the general logistics difficulties then!  Ivan, as you would expect, gave us some good leads for interesting moulds, cultures and starters.  The key, however, should you be interested is that liquid mould cultures work best.  Also that Pencillium roqueforti may not necessarily be your best bet in blue cheese making.  Some Gorgonzola makers, rather than using roqueforti which can be too strong and break down the proteins and fats too quickly, use Penicillium glaucum which is a blue mould that is also used in goats cheeses, particularly cheeses like Valencay.  In fact, Mons Cheesemongerssell a cheese called Persille de Beaujolais which is a Fourme d’Ambert recipe but made using Penicillium glaucum they have procured from some friends in Italy who make Gorgonzola.  The technology is spreading.  It gives lighter, less alcoholic and more mushroomy flavours and, having sold the odd piece or two, I can tell you, it goes down well with the nervous blue cheese buyer as well as actually being rather damn lovely too.
So June beckoned and we tasted the cheeses we’d made last month.  We cut the cheeses open and tasted them.  The Bleu de Gex from our first visit was generally considered really rather good.  I took some home and we ate them at home for quite some time.  I can concur, it was really good.  The Blue Bries had unfortunately suffered in maturation and dried out.  They became bullets.  The Gorgonzola had too much cream added (we used 7% but you would usually use 6% or less) and this inhibited the blue.  It was also undersalted and had the danger of going soapy.  The Fourme d’Ambert with Guernsey milk seemed good so far.  The goats milk Stilton or rather Stichelton as we never pasteurised it (Ivan doesn’t teach courses with pasteurised milk) were over-acidified (which we had known at the time) and the wrong blue had been used (we also knew this at the time too – it was a spot the mistake test).  For goats milk a less lipolytic blue should have been used.  The School of Artisan Food only had Penicillium roqueforti and at that a fairly standard strain.  Ideally we would perhaps have used Penicillium glaucum or at least a less lipolytic strain of roqueforti.
The Guernsey Fourme
Our Bleu de Gex – not even blueing I think you could say but it tasted good.
Gorgonzola with added cream – enough to inhibit the blueing perhaps??
Blue Wednesday!
The goats milk Stichelton.  Well marbled as you can see.  Bit too marbled if truth be told.
Assessing all those cheeses did give valuable information.  Could we have pierced the cheeses more to allow better blueing (we pierced by hand of course because we hadn’t made very many cheeses), what was the effect of the fat content of the milk, the effect of salting and how much you really do need when you add blue mould into the mix.
And should I forget, we also got to visit Sticheltonproduction where Joe Schneider and his team,, particularly Ross were really helpful with their information and even allowed us to try ladling some curd.  It is tough work believe you me.  I am no stranger to lifting heavy things or working hard but the strain of lifting a full ladle of curd gives you arm-ache that lasts for weeks.  I know, I had it.
Another peculiarity is that, of course, you have to use a particular side of the body to ladle.  This could lead to an overdeveloped arm.
‘So how do you keep both arms equal.’ Someone asked Ross as we observed them ladling.
‘I try to vary it,’ he replied, ‘but I can’t vouch for what Joe does to keep his left arm in training…’
And on that note, I will leave you to ruminate on blue cheese.

Choosing a Cheese: The Neal’s Yard Dairy Dilemma

When I left Neal’s Yard Dairy, I had a vague idea of learning how to make a traditional dales type of cheese like Cheshire (the house cheese where I grew up) or Lancashire (the fabled house cheese of my dad’s childhood).  I also had a pipe dream of my own orchard and market garden and a yoghurt making facility where I made yoghurts and fruit coulis to be sold together using  rare and interesting varieties of cherries, pears, apricots, strawberries, rhubarb or whatever other fruit took my fancy.  A visit to Caroline Atkinson at Hill FarmDairy to make Stawley, reminded me how much I enjoy the pace of a lactic cheese make.  Nine months at Holker Farm Dairy getting my head around drainage of a washed rind cheese made me wonder if I really did want to put that all to one side and make something entirely different in future.  Equally, memories of the sticky, greasy, gloopy and slimey business that is rind washing cheeses did put me off the idea of making a washed rind of my own.

When I first got in touch with Rose, they had made a Chaource on a very much ‘in the kitchen’ basis which tasted really pretty darn good.   I was very keen to make a lactic cows milk cheese and to be honest this did encourage me to keep the email correspondence going in those early stages.  The fact that she also was interested in making yoghurt (albeit for a frozen yoghurt range primarily) was an added bonus.  Should it ever be even a remote possibility, Oxfordshire is a considerably better place climate-wise to try and plant the odd fruit tree than Cumbria.
I did my market research too – by which I mean I got in touch with Jason Hinds and Bronwen Percival at Neal’s Yard and asked them what they suggested would be a good choice for a dairy that was just setting out.
‘Bloomy rind soft cheese and continental style blue’ came the reply.
‘Does a lactic cheese qualify as bloomy rind?’
‘Yup’
Emboldened, Rose and I set about our sales projections and planning with a soft lactic cheese in mind and to then bring on a gorgonzola style blue a year or so later into production.
‘What about doing a washed rind though?’ she asked.
‘Well I have made one before,’ I said, reluctant to abandon all that I’d learnt in Cumbria for projects new, ‘I could probably be up for doing one again if we could have a bit of help on the rind washing.’
We tentatively pencilled it in for year 5.
‘I’d quite like to do a hard cheese too’ Rose ventured.
‘I think we’d need to think about that further down the line when we’ve got more money.  It will probably need more equipment than our soft cheeses…. but we could definitely have a go.’
So we were decided.  Year 1 would be a delicate little lactic cheese, year 2 would see the launch of our blue and we would then let those establish themselves for a few years before embarking on anything new but a washed rind and a hard cheese were a possibility.  The Cheshire / Lancashire or Cotherstone type of cheese was still in with a chance.
Why so many cheeses?  Wouldn’t it be better to just do one cheese and do it right?
It’s a very valid and good point, but I think if we don’t take the possibility of maintaining the quality of all of our cheeses lightly and are always trying to improve, then we can manage it.  It also appeals to my nature to have a variety of work to do and have the challenge of doing it all well.  It’s not the easy path.  There are risks that we’ll take our eyes off one of the cheeses and mess it up.  There are plenty of examples of cheesemakers who make a large variety of cheeses and make a range of decent but not amazing cheeses.  There are also compelling examples of people who sensibly limit their product range to only one cheese and just make it good: Kirkham’s Lancashire, Stichelton to name but two.  However being nothing if not fussy about what I make and obstinate to boot, I believe I have the tenacity, doggedness and pig-headedness to make it work.  Although not commonly seen as such, I think, in this instance, these will be positive character attributes.
So, all set, we begin finding our site, getting our plans together and preparing for our planning application and build.  We call in Ivan Larcher and he designs us a beautiful layout in which we can make a lactic cheese and a blue cheese with a little yoghurt room off the side for playing around with yoghurt making and lactofermentations.  It’s all good.
But time moves on and while we are battling the planning process and pursuing the all important question of where our dairy should be (it’s going to be a permanent structure so we’d better get this vital point right), the industry waits for no man or woman. Julie Cheyney is making a lovely lactic cows cheese, St JudeDavid Jowett is alternating his mountain cheese makes with Alscot, his lactic cheese.  Jason also knows of a couple in Suffolk experimenting with a Brie.
So, one day, after heading in to meet Bronwen and ask if they might be prepared to mature on some of our lactic cheese trials that we hope to make later this year before the dairy is built, I get home to discover 2 missed calls from one Mr Jason Hinds.  I call back.
‘Anne,’ he says without preamble, ‘ I’m about to throw you a curveball, but you know me and curveballs, so I’ll carry on…’
‘Go on, I’m listening.’
‘What we really need right now isn’t a white rinded cheese.  We could really do with a washed rind.’
Gulp.
He carried on, explaining what they felt they needed on their counter and I mentally reversed our white rind lactic cheese to year 5 and brought forward the washed rind to year 1 to see how I felt about that.  Although I’d been entirely decided about the lactic cheese, I found that I actually didn’t feel particularly upset about switching things around and we ended the conversation by agreeing that I’d talk to Rose and we’d both consider the matter further.
Meanwhile I had a Blue Cheese course to go on at the School of Artisan Food where I’d have chance to talk to Ivan Larcher about the idea so I emailed him to ask how it might affect our dairy plan and to warn him I’d be asking him about it when I saw him.
‘What do you want to do?’ Ivan asked, getting to the point with clear sighted accuracy and without beating about the bush, ‘Make a cheese you want to make or sell to Neal’s Yard?’
A good question.
I examined my motives and in doing so, I realised that, having spent 16 years at Neal’s Yard, I did want them to sell my cheese.  In part, I wanted the friends I have there to be excited about what I’m making, but also I know from working at Holker with Martin that if anyone can be relied upon to push you, always ask for the cheese to be better and make sure you aren’t resting on your laurels, it’s Neal’s Yard Dairy.  I want someone to be a pain in the arse and insist that I make them better cheese.
That said, I want to make what I want to make.  So in answer to Ivan’s question, I want to do both.  I want to make what I want to make and I want to sell to them.
In terms of a washed rind cheese, I want to look to Italy for inspiration, just as I did with our blue cheese.  Italy is my second home.  I’ve spent about a tenth of my life there over the years and in many ways I’ve grown up there.  It doesn’t matter which city I arrive in or whether I’ve been there before or not, I am at home.  While France boasts wonderful washed rind cheeses (and I’ve been helping out with Mons at Borough Market recently so I’ve been getting to know some of them in much more detail), I don’t have the connection with France that I do with Italy.  So if we’re talking washed rind, then I want to make something based on Taleggio with its sweet, milky, honeyed, savoury flavour profile and its silky texture.
In terms of lactic cheese, well we’ll see, in Year 5, if they are interested.  They can plan and look for gaps in their range as any efficient shop or affineur would but that’s not the only thing that makes your product choice for you.  Sometimes you just respond to a cheese that’s damn good.  In other words, if I make it delicious enough, they will buy it.  I do like a challenge.